In his 116th game of the season, A.J. Ellis hit a wall.
It came without warning but, starting with the Dodgers’ Sept. 11 game in Arizona, Ellis went 10 straight games without a hit — a span of 31 plate appearances.
Before this year Ellis’ career high was 110 games in a season, and that was when he was 26 years old and a Double-A catcher. The logical conclusion was that the workload of his first full major-league season had finally caught up with him. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said Saturday he saw some fatigue from the catcher.
“A catcher, he’s got a lot going on,” Mattingly said. “A lot of studying he’s doing. It’s not like he’s hitting and going to the outfield. He’s hitting, he’s got to call every pitch. The games we’ve been in, it’s like ‘we can’t give up a run, we can’t give up a run.’ So his mind is always constantly on, almost like really intense mind — you’re saying ‘can’t give up a run, can’t give up a run, this is a big out.’ He’s going through that every pitch. So when he’s not hitting, he’s doing that I can see more mental weardown than physical.”
But Ellis insisted he wasn’t wearing down, rather merely getting away from the approach that allowed him to hit .283/.388/.424 with 11 home runs in his first 115 games. He seemed to re-discover his stroke Sept. 23 in Cincinnati, hitting a double in a Dodgers victory over the Reds. Ellis has hits in the three games since.
“I probably swung more often than usual but I’m also trying to be more aggressive,” he said. “The season changes and the scouting report changes. Especially here in the last month or so, six weeks, I’ve seen a lot more strikes. People are attacking me, making me swing the bat.”
Since Ellis is eligible for arbitration after this season, he’d like to show the Dodgers that he didn’t hit a wall, that next season he won’t need more than the one day off each week that he usually got this year.
“I think guys know that,” Ellis said. “My number one job is behind the plate, working with those guys, and I don’t feel there’s been any dropoff in the way I’m moving behind home plate. That’s the biggest thing I’m worried about.”